It’s finally arrived – and while the silly story, drab voice acting, contrived dialogue and limp characterisation made us wince more than once, the world that it takes place in is more than enough to compensate for said errors. For the uninitiated out there, the story of Bad Company is this: you play Preston Marlow, a new recruit in B Company (hence the title) working with a ragtag threesome of war vets in the midst of a fictional war in the equally fictional country of Serkozache in Eastern Europe. The war itself isn’t really the issue in the game here, instead your primary prerogative throughout the game is to track down and rob a cache of extremely valuable gold bullion Three Kings-style.
Marlow’s crew are what you’d expect: Sarge, the obligatory shouty boss man of the platoon, Sweetwater, the dorky, spectacle wearer who tends to stick to the background during heavy fire fights, and Haggard, the stoopid hillbilly with a penchant for blowing things up and thinking about the consequences later.
Normally the Battlefield franchise is best known for its multiplayer, so this is a step forward for the series in that DICE is really pushing its single-player campaign. The gamble has somewhat paid off despite the checkered storyline and characters, making for an immensely immersive experience thanks to a number of technical nuances woven into the gaming tapestry by the Swedish dev team. How so? By utilising HDR audio and lighting, DICE has added extra oomph to the standard shooter DNA.
What does this do? It alters the way you hear things like gunshots, explosions, reloading and speech depending on whether or not you’re indoors or outdoors. It makes an amazing difference in terms of heightening the realism of the various encounters. For example, launch a rocket from your grenade launcher inside a tight space and the blast will leave your ears ringing until they gradually normalise. Step outside and the sound shifts. It works in exactly the same way for the lighting, walloping the senses in multiple ways making for a full-throttle experience akin to the battlefield maelstrom of Infinity Ward’s COD4. And with the serious power of the Frostbite Engine, this is certainly a contender (technically, at least) for one of the year’s most impressive shooters so far, that will undoubtedly find slivers of itself in the DNA of imitators before the year’s end.
And like previous Battlefields that came before it, there are plenty of vehicles for you to get to grips with including jeeps with mounted guns, tanks, armoured trucks, helicopters and boats; all of which come armed to the hilt and operate fairly straightforwardly. Acceleration and braking are confined to both the left shoulder buttons while steering stems from the left stick with multiple point of view options, including third and first-person options – best for raging around the map. There’s nothing quite like running amok through a map in a tank, crashing through walls, crushing enemy troops and leveling entire buildings with deafening cannon blasts. There are more vehicles too; at one point in the game when we had to storm a grand palace via a golf course, we found ourselves hurtling down the green in a rickety golf caddy. Sure it’s silly, but it’s still a right giggle. The map itself is pretty extensive with each mission confined to particular zones on the expansive space with your objectives laid out on the map by way of a distinctive thrumming marker.
In order to keep the battle somewhat under wraps, the game requires you to stay within said designated battle zone – stray outside and you’ll have an allotted number of seconds to step back inside. Areas vary from huge open fields to small towns, the aforementioned golf course, a palace and long stretches of open rivers. One of our favourite levels was spent entirely in the air battling gunships, boats and ground troops on a mission to chase down and obliterate fuel trucks en route to your enemy – a team of mercenaries led by an elusive legionnaire, who is shamefully wasted as your arch enemy, re-surfacing in the game’s final moments alluding to an inevitable sequel. Good times.
Even though the key focus of the game is repeatedly nabbing the gold, each map comes complete with multiple hidden goodies such as bars of gold and weapons that can be unlocked for use in the multiplayer mode, so make sure you explore the empty shacks, barracks and raid enemy corpses for any new means of firepower. It’s always worth the effort. Aside from the obvious firearms, machine-guns, and explosives on hand, DICE throws in a few slick gadgets including a handheld device that allows you to call in mortar strikes and a laser guided missile launcher where you get to control the missile from the air once it’s launched. It’s tremendous fun.
These war toys come in really useful when you’re under attack from a barrage of tanks and enemy troops. And frankly, it’s just a whole heap of fun to steer a missile from the sky right down on top of an enemy’s unsuspecting dome. Another addition to the series is the inclusion of GTA-style radio stations in the vehicles. There’s a pretty diverse range of tunes on offer here from gospel stuff through big orchestral pieces and 60’s surf music. It’s not breaking any new ground, but it certainly adds a quirky personality to the shooting.
And while the single-player campaign can easily be finished in around six or seven hours depending on how much exploring you do, it’s the multiplayer that really draws you in and keeps you coming back for more. When we first heard that Bad Company would only feature one new multiplayer mode called Gold Rush, we were dubious. Sure, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are still in here, but we’d welcome some more ways to play. Not the case here. Still, that doesn’t detract from the fact the Gold Rush is a blast. The premise is this: you either play as an Attacker or a Defender with the sole purpose of obliterating your enemies’ stash of gold or protecting your own from enemy troops.
You can choose from a multitude of weaponry options at the outset, rolling out the standard machine-gun you come equipped with at the start, sniper rifles, heavy guns or advanced weaponry. This is why it’s best to make sure you collect and search for all the weaponry in the single-player campaign, as it’s unlocked for you once you jump online. From here, it’s just a case of standing guard, charging to the frontline, or, if you’re like us, finding a vantage point near your stash of gold in Defender mode, and laying waste to any incoming troops. Our initial concern was it would become very boring, very quickly. It didn’t. In fact, we enjoyed it just as much as Call of Duty 4. It’s kinetic, furious and with the addition of vehicles, it elevates the game beyond that standard shooter tag that so many others fall into the trappings of.
The more kills and skills you wrack up, the higher ranked you become – just like in COD4. Ranking up is then rewarded through codes that allow you to unlock new and devastating weapons for multiplayer, so it’s worth ratcheting up a few headshots if you want those bigger guns. Everything that you can do in the single-player campaign including blowing up walls, crashing through buildings in speeding tanks, ordering mortar and missile strikes, is all present and accounted for in multiplayer too and it all works seamlessly.
There’s no doubt in our mind that Bad Company can – and will – succeed in a month that’s usually reserved for shoddy film tie-ins and mediocre releases. Yes, it’s a little one-dimensional at times – but which decent shooter isn’t a little? Still, even these moments are elevated by the crafty use of destruction and the incredible HDR technology which will turn your head. Looking for fun in the sun? Bad Company is it.
Jun 23, 2008